Australia's immigration authorities, either unable or unwilling to provide details on the origins of 10,000 migrants issued temporary work visas based on their ICT skills, have conveniently blamed their database for the problem.
According to figures from the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs which Computerworld obtained this week, 10,252 subclass 457 visa grants have been issued to ICT workers from an unspecified time in 2002 until January 31, 2005.
The 457 visas allow skilled employees to be sponsored into jobs in Australia when an employer can demonstrate no suitably-skilled Australians can be found. Computerworld requested the country of origin figures for 457 visa (for ICT skills) after the Australian Computer Society (ACS) released its migration policy. Country of origin figures are publicly available and routinely issued for other visa categories such as 416 working holiday visas and even general tourism entry visas.
The ACS policy stated the current 457 visa system is open to abuses and is "currently being used to undercut prevailing market salary rates and displace young ICT professionals and provide unfair competitive advantages to offshoring firms competing against local firms, particularly in tendering for large projects".
However, nearly a week after Computerworld lodged its request for figures based on the countries of origin of ICT 457 visa holders, and their incomes, the department stated: "This data cannot be extracted from DIMIA databases in time for your deadline."
The director DIMIA public affairs has also written to Computerworld refuting suggestions the 457 system open to abuses and published the letter on the DIMIA homepage, http://www.immi.gov.au/ .
"Comprehensive measures are in place to ensure integrity of the 457 visa program. All 457 visa applicants must be sponsored by an approved employer. The employer's right to sponsor overseas workers can be cancelled if the employer does not comply with strict undertakings. The department monitors all business sponsors and visits approximately 25 percent of workplaces," the department's letter states.
Government sources familiar with the operational performance of DIMIA's database said extracting country of origin information for subclasses of visa holders from the department's Immigration Records Information System (IRIS) and the Integrated Client Services Environment (ICSE) was possible within "hours if not minutes".
The country of origin figures for 457 visas are understood to be of considerable sensitivity to the government because they have the potential to illuminate how many ICT workers are being sponsored into Australia by offshoring companies, particularly from trading partners in India.
Computerworld has also learnt that senior executives from DIMIA, the Department of Employment, Science and Training (DEST) and the Department of Communications IT and the Arts (DCITA) held urgent talks with the ACS on Wednesday May 4 in an effort to find solutions to the current ICT visa mess.
Proposals understood to be under consideration include a fast-tracked, dob-in scheme with guaranteed anonymity for ICT workers to help the DIMIA investigate visa rorts. Another includes direct input from an ICT industry representative group to help validate both the bona fides of, and demand for, specific ICT skills.
ACS president Edward Mandla confirmed the meeting, describing it as "extremely positive" and indicative of a genuine desire in the government to create solutions.
Mandla said a significant move forward was an in-principle agreement between the ICT industry, DIMIA, DEST and DCITA to create a common set of codes for ICT skills across all three portfolios to allow the government better management of ICT policy and migration outcomes.